Free Study Guide for The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer|
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The General Prologue (continued)
The Friar was a jovial and merry man. He was a limiter i.e. a Friar licensed
to beg within certain limits. He had mastered the art of small talk. He
had arranged the marriage of many young women after seducing them himself.
He was a pillar of the church and familiar with the frankeleyns and worthy
women of the town. He was licensed to hear confessions and granted absolutions
easily. He believed that gifting silver instead of prayers and remorseful
tears is the best way to show repentance. His hood was overstuffed with
knives and other trinkets to give the good women. He had a merry voice
and could sing and play very well on the harp. He was well acquainted
with the taverns in town and knew every innkeeper and barmaid better than
anyone, since it wasnít profitable to deal with poor people. The Friar
was the best beggar in his order and was always able to extract money
from people. The proceeds of his begging were far greater than the rent
he paid to the church. He wore a double-breasted cloak and lisped in affectation
to make English soft on his tongue. His eyes twinkled brightly in his
head as the stars in a frosty night. The Friar was called Hubert.
The Friar numbers among Chaucerís portraits of the corrupt clergy. There were
four orders of Friars in the medieval age: the Dominicans, Franciscans,
Carmelites, and Augustinians. Friars were mendicants and wandered from
place to place and had the authority to hear confessions. Chaucerís Friar
is a hedonist and well acquainted with the wealthy and the powerful. Moreover
he is lascivious and has seduced many young women with his sweet talk
and the trinkets that he always carries in his hood. He is obviously an
important member of his order. However he is more worldly than spiritual.
Chaucer ironically says that he is the best Friar while meaning the exact
The Merchant had a forked beard, was dressed in motley and rode a high horse.
He wore a Flemish beaver hat and his boots were clasped elegantly. He
gave his opinions on English policy very pompously and these opinions
were always dictated by his idea of what would be good for trade and lead
to an increase of his own profits. He firmly believed that the sea between
Middleburgh and Orwell should be guarded at all costs. He profitably sold
French crowns called "sheeldes" that he received in exchange
for his goods. He was very dignified in the management of his affairs
and nobody knew about his debts. Although he was a worthy man Chaucer
doesnít know his name.
There was also a serious Clerk of Oxford who had devoted himself to the study
of logic. His horse was as thin as a rake. The Clerk was a very thin man.
He wore a threadbare upper coat since he didnít have any source of income.
He spent all that he got from friends on books and learning and prayed
earnestly for the souls of those who gave him the means to study. He was
very studious and didnít speak more than what was required. The little
the he spoke was full of moral meaning. He would gladly learn and also
The Clerk is among Chaucerís idealized portraits. There is no irony in his
description. Chaucer has deep admiration for the Clerkís serious devotion
to his study of philosophy.
The Sergeant at Law was a careful and wise lawyer. On many occasions he had
been appointed directly by the king to serve as a judge. His skill and
wide reputation had earned him huge fees and lavish presents. He always
sought unentailed ownership of land. He seemed busier than he actually
was. He remembers all the cases and decisions which had occurred since
King Williamís time. He had the skill to draw up a legal document with
the perfect phrasing. He could recite every statute by heart.
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